Friday, November 28, 2008

Fiest Saga Continues

Ok, so I just discovered it’s been close to five months since I did a post on the series I was reviewing. Oops.

The next book in the series is Shadow of a Dark Queen. It jumps several years into the future. Prince Nicky is all grown up and an admiral in the Royal Navy – we don’t see much of him. We now go to characters not at all related to the Kingdom’s royal family.

Erik VonDarkmoor is the bastard son of the Duke of Darkmoor. He’s somewhere around 16 to 20 years old, and is unofficially a blacksmith’s apprentice. Unofficially because he mother will not allow the local blacksmith to send a notice to the guild and allow him to name Erik as his apprentice. In practice, Erik is a very good blacksmith, and very good with the animals a blacksmith comes in contact with – horses mostly.

Erik’s mother is a very bitter woman, which makes Erik’s childhood unhappy. In her youth she was a great beauty, and she tells a story that the Duke of Darkmoor was so taken with her beauty that he actually married her, but because a powerful noble can’t get married without the King’s permission the marriage was annulled. The Duke was married to a very powerfully connected noble, and the Duke never acknowledged Erik as his son. If he had, Erik’s mother continually tells him, Erik would be the Duke’s heir, because he was firstborn. Although the Duke has not acknowledged Erik, he has not denied him either. This little bit of legal limbo lets Erik claim the last name VonDarkmoor.

When it is announced that the Duke will be visiting Erik’s home village, the Duke arrives with his wife and legitimate sons. The oldest is intent on causing trouble for Erik, and the youngest is not able to stop him. When the older son sexually assaults a girl Erik loves as his sister, Erik ends up killing him with the help of his best friend, Roo Avery.

Erik and Roo run away, hoping to travel beyond the reach of the Duchess of Darkmoor’s agents. They are captured, taken before both Prince Nicky (who is acting as regent) and a strange woman who stares intently at them, and ultimately judged guilty of murder and sentenced to hang.

Though they are put on the scaffold, the local militia leader Sergeant Bobby arranges for Erik, Roo, and other captives to go through a mock hanging – dropping the trapdoors under them but not hanging them. They are informed they are all dead men, but the Crown has a better use for them in a specially formed military. As dead men, Bobby can kill them at any time, for whatever he wants, for any infraction.

Thus begins Erik and Roo’s adventures as they travel to the continent of Novindus, which we visited in the last book. They undergo a series of extremely dangerous adventures with some of our old friends including Calis, the son of Elf Queen and Tomas. They are fighting a serious battle against a Queen and a race of non-humans who use a dark, evil magic. Their ultimate goal may be more than just conquering and killing – and someone has to stop them before they can conquer Novindus and start for the Kingdom. Many characters die, but the quest is more important than anything that has come so far in Feist’s saga.

Erik is one of my very favorite characters. I greatly enjoyed reading his story and learning how he grows from a simple country boy who just wants to be a blacksmith, into a strong and driven man who puts loyalty to crown and home above all else. We get to learn more of him through not just this book, but also some of the next few novels.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Learning Many Things

The new job is going well. I have been there two weeks now, and am still settling in.

The people seem to be very nice. There are a lot more employees at this company than my last, and there are still a number of people I have not been introduced to. That's ok though, because I'm not good with names right off the bat.

I have a good feeling about this place. At the very least I will be learning a lot of useful skills about marketing on the internet. I am in charge of monitoring the online advertising for the company - services like Google AdWords and Yahoo! Sponsored Listings, and a few others.

I have already made myself useful. One of my first assignments was to contact some smaller online advertising services we use and make sure we have the correct tracking code installed on our website. This is so we can track how well the online advertising is performing - the tracking code lets us track what are called "conversions." This is when somebody clicks on our ads and then makes a purchase. They have been converted from a passive searcher to an active buyer, thus a conversion.

There are a couple other minor research projects I have done or am doing at work. The nice thing is that they are all relevant to making the online advertising more effective, or to help us get more for our advertising dollars. It makes sense to want to spend as little on advertising as possible while still returning good conversion rates. After all, it doesn't make sense to spend $40 to obtain a conversion when the person only buys $10 worth of items. Not exactly cost effective.

It is also a new experience for me to be working for a company that operates an online store. My last company did not have one at all. They were a multi-level marketing company, and they had a commitment to not compete with their licensed distributors. Since they provided online stores to anyone who wanted to pay the $5 a month to host one, the company could not justify competing with them in the online environment.

This attitude of non-competition meant that we did not do any online advertising. It did make sense when you consider the distributors are taught that they are in charge of running their own business, including advertising. If they were not happy with the number of online sales their store was generating, they should do some advertising!

Anyway, my introduction to online ads is just beginning. There's a constant monitoring to make sure we're appearing high in the search rankings, but not so high that we're wasting money. After all, some big name companies like e-bay and Target will routinely buy up the first listing for ALL the keywords that are even remotely related to their business. It doesn't make sense for a small company to try to compete with the dollars a giant company can throw around.

I'm also receiving a very good introduction to press releases. Now, press releases are not new to me in any sense. In fact, I did them previously, but I always considered them a waste of time and hated doing them at all. But the way this company does them is much more efficient and effective. It helps that the product they sell relates to more than one specific industry, so they can contact major publications, blogs, and news outlets across a variety of industries. The more people we contact, the better our chances of getting our press release published.

And the Public Relations! This company actually monitors a service where journalists submit requests for what they need for their articles. Maybe it's to talk with an expert, or maybe it's a request for prize giveaways for a blog. Either way, if they accept your submission they will mention your company and product, and blogs will provide a link back to your website.

There are some other job duties that I have not yet done. I'm going to be responsible for creating several posts each week for the company blog - generally things that are on sale or are related to products we sell. That should be easier than trying to regularly post on this blog, because I won't feel obligated to write giant posts - all I have to do is introduce a product and provide a coupon code.

All in all, I'm very happy with how things are turning out with this company. I know I'm still on probation for the usual three month period, and yes anything can happen, but oh, I am enjoying myself.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

New Beginning, End of Book

With a new job comes the end of this book.

It was a good book. It made a lot of valid points, several of which I mentioned previously.

Was it incredibly helpful in the job hunt process? Well, not for me, but I can see how it could be the thing that helps someone else land a dream job, or help someone else change careers.

What Color Is Your Parachute? made a lot of excellent points that told me I was doing the right thing in accepting the job I was recently offered. For one thing, it talked about the vast number of jobs created by small companies, like the company that I will be working for starting Monday.

Small companies are everywhere. If you look around your local suburb, you'll find many businesses that you did not know existed. From the traditional franchise business owned by the neighbor down the street, to the lawyer who works out of his home and needs a personal assistant, to the family run companies that are just taking off, small companies are everywhere, and they create more jobs. Period.

Small companies employ far greater numbers in the workforce than you know. By comparison, the number of jobs created by much larger corporate entities is minuscule. Also, those corporate jobs bearing the famous corporate name will be in extremely high demand by job hunters, which decreases your chances of landing that corporate job.

So, yes, the book was valuable in that it helped me realize that working for a small company really is a good thing. It mentioned all the points that you generally think about with small companies: employees may wear a lot of hats and do multiple jobs; the benefits may not be as generous as a large company; you may get more actual hands-on experience at a small company; you may work more closely with the owners of a small company and reap the value of their experience.

That being said, the book contained a lot of information that I did not find valuable. There were chapters devoted to how to relocate to other parts of the country and find a job quickly; how to relocate to a foreign country and find a job (and pitfalls of worker visas); how to change careers after many years in one type of work.

All these chapters were well thought out, well written, and could certainly have value to many people. I just was not looking for that sort of information.

However, I also recognize (and many of my teachers in college also emphasized this point) that the average worker today may change careers 3 to 5 times during his or her lifetime. Not necessarily because they want to, but because they get laid off, or must relocate to take care of a family member, or some other opportunity arises.

I am open-minded enough to realize that I very well could be looking to change careers later down the road, or maybe splorp! will get transferred to his company's other office in Texas. Should anything of that sort happen, I will certainly pick up this book again and follow the exercises designed to help me identify what sort of work I could do well, and enjoy doing, and maybe even enjoy doing in another part of the world.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Success in the Great Job Hunt

Hooray! I can officially say the great job hunt is over! Well, barring any unforeseen difficulties, like a natural disaster or some such.

I will be going in to my new office on Thursday to meet again with my supervisor and complete my new hire paperwork and get acquainted with my work station, then I start on Monday!

I have already made my phone calls to family and friends. They are excited for me. I also called my former boss (the one I was sorry to leave), and he is very happy for me, as I knew he would be.

I'm feeling nervous, but that's just new job jitters, and to be expected. I am horrible at remembering names and faces, and this new company has a lot more people than the last one, so I am going to be lost for a little while.

But, new opportunity, right? So I have to think and be positive. And I keep telling myself, at least the man who runs the company is much more in tune with the internet and how marketing on the internet affects your business, so it's already a much better fit for me.